8. Nature Rising

A elephant that is standing in the grass

Description automatically generated
Image by เอกลักษณ์ มะลิซ้อน from Pixabay

The task encourages learners to share different recent news stories concerning animals and to decide whether they are true or false: real or fake news. I’d noticed during the last couple of months how these animal stories seemed to be proliferating. They delighted me at first. I was disappointed, though, to learn that a large proportion of them were simply made up: disappointed that the event as described had never happened (who doesn’t want dolphins in the Grand Canal?) and disappointed in myself for falling for fake news.

I struggled to name this lesson as I think my first choice of title – Fake Gnus – was brilliant and horrible in equal measure: unusable, yet nothing could quite live up to it. So Nature Rising it is. In any case, I’ve collected six of these stories (seven in you include the ludicrous demonstration) and condensed them into short “case files” (see the attached material) – the core idea is that students should get three each; they then take turns summarising each file to a partner, who should listen and decide if it is true or not, and why. This leads on to a personalised discussion of both these particular stories and fake news more generally. I think this works best for intermediate and upwards, teens and adults. See my suggestions at the end for adapting it for lower levels.

Pre-task:

  • Ask the students if they can think of any positive effects of the lockdown – in particular, for the natural world / the environment. Elicit one or two ideas e.g. lower levels of pollution.
  • Tell the students they are going to watch a short video called “Animals Reclaiming the World” – put this title in the chat. Inform them it is compilation of animals during the lockdown. Ask them as they watch to a) work out what this title means b) select their favourite clips. Share your screen to play the clip, which can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4U00C2i6m4.
  • Afterwards elicit a few ideas and opinions (you can do this in rooms if you think the students will have a lot to say, but it’s meant to be a brief stage). The title refers to the fact that animals have had more freedom since lockdown and there are many sightings, clips, pics, stories showing animals in unfamiliar places (e.g. the middle of a city), or behaving in strange ways.
  • Elicit the term fake news. Ask the students if we should believe all of these stories (no); and ask them what we call news stories, usually spread on social media, that are not true (fake news). Tell students they are going to read and share some animal lockdown stories that were reported in the media in the last three months. Our task is to decide if they are real or fake.

Main Task:

  • Demonstrate the task – tell the students you will look at an example story from recent weeks. It is called Lions in Moscow. They need to decide if it is real or fake, and why. Share your screen with them to show them this example (it is at the top of the PDF document Nature Rising Complete Material, which you can find at the end of this subsection – this is for you to use here for the demo and for the students to get at the end of the lesson, as it contains all case files and answers. They should only see their own case files during the lesson).
  • Give the students 2 minutes to skim the story and then briefly put them in rooms with the question: is this real news or fake news? Why do you think so? Emphasise when you come back together they must have good reasons, but keep this pair / groupwork phase brief, as it is quite obviously a fake story. When everyone is back together, take a vote: hands up if they believe it is real; hands up if they believe it is fake. Elicit why they believe it is fake e.g. how could essential workers travel from home to their workplace; where on earth did all these animals come from etc. (a pretty endless list, really, as it’s an absurd story, presumably intended as a joke story even though many were taken in by it).
  • Let them know they will each get 3 other case files: Student A Animal Case Files and Student B Animal Case Files. These stories may be real or fake (but warn them they are all more realistic than Lions in Moscow!):
  • Divide the class into two, with half getting document A, and half getting document B. (Sort the groupings, and who will receive which file, in advance e.g. while the students are watching the clip earlier, or discussing the Lions in Moscow story). Remind them they are going to have to summarise their case files – so it is important they understand the key information, but they don’t need to understand everything. Give them 3-6 minutes to read, depending on their level. Their task is to simply be ready to check anything – ideas, lexis – they are unsure of with a partner who read the same texts. After they read, put them in rooms with partners who read the same texts (AAA and BBB), and allow a few minutes to double check the stories with each other.
  • Option: if short of time, or if three texts would be too much, reduce the number to two or even one.
  • (Note: the links embedded within the case files are not intended to be clicked on during the lesson, unless you have students who can cope with these authentic articles – they should just be reading the brief case file).
  • Students should prepare to summarise their story.
  • Option: if you feel it would be helpful for your learners, build in a phase where, collaboratively, they extract the key facts from their stories. They can work together with others who read the same (AAA, BBB) to put up to ten facts from their story in the Key Information table beneath each text. This can be used as support for the main telling phase. Alternatively, they could highlight key phrases in the text to help with the re-telling. But you should avoid a situation where they are simply reading the text aloud to their partner. For a challenge, if appropriate, tell students not to look at the texts once they are re-telling.
  • Now put them with a new partner or partners who read the other set – so AB, or AABB, as is more convenient, though pairs is ideal here if possible. They should summarise one file at a time. For example A shares their first file, B listens, asks questions to clarify if necessary, and at the end decides if it is real or fake, and why they think so. A then lets them know if they were correct. If the story was fake, they can share some of the extra information from the final row. I think this works well if they take turns with the re-telling (A then B, then A then B etc).
  • This is the main task phase and students should be left to get on with it independently as far as possible. Even so, monitor and make notes for subsequent language feedback. Although you do not want to interrupt the flow, if there is a chance for you to unobtrusively help learners with language they need at the moment of need do so orally or through the chat.
  • In feedback, find out if they guessed correctly and why. If you intend to do the full follow-up task, then keep this brief; if not, feel free to throw out a few questions from the Questions for Further Discussion list to exploit reactions to and opinions of the text and topic.
  • Then either do some language focus now, or save it for after the follow-up task.
  • Give out the Complete Material Handout (just below) at the end of the lesson, so they have all the material (see the extension / homework ideas below).

Follow-up Task:

  • At the end of their worksheets, students will find Questions for Further Discussion. Feel free to do one of these open class (if you haven’t in the feedback to the main task). Then instruct the students in groups / rooms to discuss them, or a set number of them. I recommend, if level appropriate, including 6 and 7 as these are the questions that necessitate some negotiation rather than simply sharing opinions. Feedback on these any points of interest from 1-5, as well as 6-7.

Ideas for Language Focus: 

Grammar

Modal auxiliary verbs for speculation, including conditionals: That could/can’t be true; I think it might be possible if…. ; That strikes me as something that could happen; I don’t believe that elephants would drink so much wine.

Narrative tenses, especially from the texts themselves

e.g. 1 The elephants had entered a village where the humans were indoors due to lockdown.

e.g. 2 It was recently reported that dozens of the monkeys had left the temple where they live and wandered into the town

Lexis

Language to express likelihood: that’s not very likely; that seems/sounds fake; I think that probably did happen; that’s obviously fake; that’s quite convincing.

Key words from the texts: e.g. from the text about the Asian giant hornet: predator, sting, spread…

Social interactions that might arise from the task: I can’t believe you thought it was true / fell for it / didn’t spot that one; Do you really think that….? There’s no way that…. I can’t believe that…. ; You must be joking; I could spot that a mile off.

Functions

Language for agreeing and disagreeing: I think you’re probably right; I’m with you on that; I’m not so sure; No, it’ can’t be real / fake, as….

Giving and responding to opinions (especially in the follow-up task): I think the problem nowadays is….; another solution is to….; another reason is….you’re probably right;

Variations and Extension: 

  • I think you can do this with pre-intermediate learners upwards. The lower the level, the more support that will be needed. One option is to give them their texts in advance of the lesson, so they can read, check lexis and prepare the re-telling before the lesson starts. In which case you might do the “pre-task” at the end of one lesson, set task preparation for homework, and then continue in the next lesson.
  • The jigsaw element to the activity is important for the information gap, but you can change how this works e.g. students could do the main task in threes (ABC) with each only getting two texts – play around with the formatting / documents to make it work for you. This can include simplifying some of the lexis but try to keep it fairly natural.
  • Make sure you give students the complete material document at the end of the lesson so they have a copy of all files. Ask them to read the other files more carefully. Ask them to pick 10-15 new words or phrases they have noticed in the texts to discuss in groups next lesson, or to add to Quizlet.
  • For homework students can read any of the linked articles from the files and present anything new they learned from these in the next lesson (both content and language).
  • They could also read this follow-up article on why people want to believe fake news: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/why-do-people-want-so-badly-to-believe-this-fake-story-is-true/ You could ask them to summarise the reasons why people want to believe fake news the next lesson. Follow-up: is it better that these stories were revealed to be fake? Is there any harm in believing “innocent” fake news stories?

7. Bucket List

Sometimes going through major life changes can make you look back over your life, and forward to the future. Perhaps, with the lifting of restrictions in late spring, the appearance of a chink of light between the doors of confinement has turned students’ thoughts to future possibility? This task focuses on students’ life ambitions that they would still, realistically, like to fulfil – a bucket list. The origin of the term, when students ask, is actually the idiom kick the bucket and, more specifically, the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. 

Pre-task:

  1. After opening the lesson with a chat (in open class) about achievements and memorable days, students read through the following popular options for bucket lists (don’t introduce the term yet.), asking which of these things have you done and which would you still like to do?
  • ride an elephant 
    • visit the Grand Canyon 
    • see the pyramids in Egypt 
    • go skydiving
    • write a book
    • swim with dolphins
    • go on a cruise
    • learn to surf
  • In feedback, ask the students if they know what a bucket list is, or whether they have seen the film. Explain the idea in a way that is appealing. (You needn’t relate it to lifetime goals – note that the website above has “summer bucket lists”.) You can elicit from students what kind of things would tend to be on people’s bucket lists: travel tends to be right up there, along with ambitions that are to do with sport and hobbies.
  • As an alternative to step 4, if you want to set homework before the task itself, you could introduce students to this site, where they can read about people’s ideas. https://www.bucketlist.net/ideas/ Various people have posted short articles – sometimes only a line – about their suggestions and insights.  
  • The students now listen to Sze’s three ideas – see audio file below – with this task: 
    • What are her choices?
    • Would your list include any of these? 
    • Are there any choices that  surprise you?
Sze’s bucket list

Main Task  

  1. Now it’s the turn of the students to write their own lists. They should restrict themselves to things that are realistic, given their age and stage of life, but there is no limit to the number of items. It’s possible that some students may have no unachieved ambitions at all, in which case you caould ask these students to think of more extreme or fantastical ideas. Tell students they’ll be presenting some of the items to the group, so they may wish to add extra notes.
  2. The task is for the students to talk about items from their own lists, and say why they have chosen each one. If there is time, they can also ask each other questions to find which other student(s) in the group have similar ideas. Who is most similar to you? You could even get them to see if there is anything they could, in theory, do together. (See below for alternative goals for the task.)
  3. Be careful with setting the time-limit; there should be a clear time for each student’s turn in the breakout group. 2-5 minutes each is a rough guide, depending on their level, and how you frame the goal.
  4. In feedback, you can, introduce other personalised questions such as, “is this something you’ve wanted to do for a long time?” or “what prevented you from doing this up till now?” 

NB Here are three alternative ways to make the task communicative:

  • The students could discuss in their groups and say whose list is most / least achievable, or expensive.
  • In face to face classes, students can write their lists and display them for others to guess who wrote each list – before the main discussion in groups. This can also be done online by having students type their list, take a screenshot, and post it on the chat for the host to download – if your platform has this feature.
  • For younger (teenage) or more competitive students, you could tell them to include one lie on their list i.e. something that is a plausible bucket list wish, but not one they would personally include. After they tell each other about their bucket list ideas, the listeners should try to guess which is the lie.

Ideas for Language Focus: 

Grammar

Language for wishes / desires / likes and dislikes: I chose this because I really like X; I’d love to…. I never had the chance to do X when I was younger; 

Present perfect It’s just something I’ve never done / always wanted to do;  I’ve been building up to –ing / training for the London Marathon; I’ve always thought about / dreamed of -ing

Conditionals / modals – if I had the chance, I’d definitely do X; it might be possible if I save enough money; I’m sure I could; I don’t know if I’ll be able to; You can do this at any age / You don’t have to be young to do this

Verb patterns (colloiation) e.g. It looks/ seems easy, as though + clause / like + NP

Lexis

Wishes / desires: a lifelong ambition, a secret wish, a bit of a challenge; set myself a new challengeI want to get out of my comfort zone / try something new; fear of failure

To describe the items on the list: It’s (un)realistic, achievable, rewarding, disappointing, out of my reach, well within / beyond my abilities (to…)

Variations / task repetition

  • The task can be focused on areas of particular interest e.g. sports, travel, a reading list, music/arts, or career achievements.
  • If you feel the bucket list idea is inappropriate, you can feed in the language “to be in your comfort zone”, “to go beyond your comfort zone”, clarifying these, and go on to ask students: When are you in your comfort zone? What are some things you would like to try that are beyond your comfort zone?
  • You could add a homework task from the website above or https://bucketlistjourney.net/my-bucket-list/  Students read and choose 5 of their favourites to report back on.

6. Home Office

This is exactly what my workspace looks like

Many of us are spending much of the day at home under lockdown, even as restrictions ease in some countries. This lesson involves a series of tasks that have students discuss their experiences of “home office” – this can be extended to mean studying from home, where appropriate, or just the experience of an altered daily routine. Pick from the tasks below as seems appropriate to your students. They are designed to be adaptable and therefore usable in a range of learning contexts, including lower levels. They can be shortened, lengthened or omitted as suits the interests of the group. For instance, you might use “Changes” as a pre-task phase for “New Routines”, leaving out “My Workspace” altogether.

  • Changes: students discuss and agree upon the most significant changes to their daily lives.
  • My Workspace: students compare their “two selves” – how they present themselves to others when working online, through their webcam, and the reality of their desk / workspace. They can optionally read and react to an article about this, linked below.
  • New Routines: students plan and present their typical daily routine under lockdown.  They then have one of various possible goals to encourage them to compare and evaluate these routines.

Task 1 – Changes:

  1. Tell the students you will dictate some phrases, which they should note down. This is a long list, and how many and which of the following you select for a shortlist in class will depend on level and time:
  • Waking up
  • Eating breakfast / lunch / dinner 
  • Doing exercise
  • Working / studying habits
  • Taking breaks from work / study
  • Going to the shops
  • Watching movies
  • Reading books
  • Playing games
  • Chatting to friends
  • Spending time alone
  • Spending time with family
  • Going to bed
  • Check the phrases and elicit the topic of the lesson – everyday activities / life at home / routines.
  • Ask students to look at the list of activities and decide on the biggest changes to their lives since lockdown. What in their everyday life has changed the most? What is still very similar to before? Students should choose the three or four activities / habits that have changed the most, and the three or four that are most similar. They should prepare to present these ideas in breakout rooms, in threes, in order to find out which of their two partners they are most similar to. Make it clear they will report back on this goal afterwards.
  • Put students into breakout rooms. As you monitor the discussion, make notes for language feedback (see the bottom of the page for some possible areas) – but also, where it seems appropriate and does not interrupt the flow, offer immediate feedback, supplying phrases and words through chat or directly offering input if a student asks for help. Take notes of interesting points for content feedback on the goal.
  • In feedback, ask each room to share their conclusions – who are you more similar to? Then share some instances of language you noted while monitoring the breakout rooms, using chat, Google docs or the whiteboard function. For example, you could list 5-10 sentences you heard, including effective language worth sharing and issues to be corrected. Ask the students to note corrections and then feed back, highlighting useful phrases and sentences.
my workspace – webcam view: diligence personified
my workspace – reality: actually a bit of a mess

Task 2 – My Workspace:

  1. Ask students to look at your webcam image and ask questions about the room / workspace. Give an example: which part of the room / house / flat do I work in? Do you think I have a “proper” desk? Do you think my room and space is tidy or messy, and why? Then share a picture of your real workspace (or better still, if you can do so easily, show it through the webcam: one option if your computer webcam is built-in is to open Zoom on your phone too and use this as a second screen). Ask students if it is what they expected. The answer may be yes or no depending on the distance between the “two yous” i.e. webcam you and reality. If you prefer, you can use the pictures from this page (just above this post), sharing them one at a time in chat, with the webcam one first, followed by the reality snapshot of the wider workspace. But students will be much more interested to find out about your home set-up! (And it is only fair for you to share, given you are about to ask them to do the same).
  2. Ask students to go into breakout rooms in pairs or threes. Their task is to predict what the workspace / home set-up of their partner is. Offer some guiding questions in the chat if it helps, based on the demonstration in step 1.  Look at your partner’s webcam picture. Based on this (and what you know about your partner) guess: 1) which part of the house / flat they work in; 2) how big their workspace is; 3) how tidy their workspace is 4) anything else you want to find out. Once they have made some guesses, the partner should either take a picture of the space and share it in chat, to compare; or, as noted above, move the webcam / use their phone to show the surrounding area. They then confirm how correct / incorrect the guesses were, before swapping roles. Encourage them each time to find out more from each other e.g. what they like more / less about where they work; whether they prefer working at home or in their office. In feedback, ask if the guesses were correct, and if they saw or heard anything that surprised them.
  3. A possible extension involves using this article from The Guardian: https://tinyurl.com/yaekflsk. Nine people share their ‘webcam’ vs. ‘reality’ workspace. Ask students to immediately drag the central yellow icon in each picture to the right so that they can only see the webcam view. In pairs, in breakout rooms, they make guesses as to who is the tidiest, least tidy, has the most elegant workspace and so on. Then they drag the pictures to the left – revealing the reality picture – to see if they were correct. They can then read the short descriptions under the pictures with an appropriate task e.g. which home set-up seems best for your work? Students can finally mine the texts for new and interesting language. If they are lower level, focus on one or two of the shorter and simpler texts and offer some scaffolding through specific guiding questions e.g. find positive adjectives to describe the workspace; find and write down their job titles.

Task 3 – New Routines:

  1. Tell the students they are going to share their everyday routines – a “typical” weekday in lockdown.
  2. Draw their attention to the new routines template (linked below). They should take 5-10 minutes on their own making some notes in this template based on what they tend to do at what time of day. If you have recently done the Changes task then this will have generated some ideas for this part.  
  3. If you feel it will support the learners – for instance, if they are lower level – give your own version of your new routine first. Talk the students through your day, using simple but natural language, and ask them to take some notes of key words / phrases in the template (under “Partner 1”, for instance). They can then move into breakout rooms to compare and “reconstruct” your day. This may help give further ideas regarding how to approach the task.
  4. In any case, students need a chance to prepare their own – they should write 10+ key phrases in the “My Day” column, next to the approximate time it happens. Show the example, pointing out they can use a “window” of time (e.g. 6.00 – 7.00, 9.00 – 12.00) and can include more than one activity in this period. Give them time to take notes. They can ask you questions in the chat while they do so if they have any questions about language they need.
  5. When ready, move them into breakout rooms to work with a partner. Before you do so, make the goal / outcome of the task explicit. This can vary depending on time, level, age and so on. Options include:
  • (I’d say in all cases) encourage students to take notes in the next free column. The key words / phrases at the correct time of day.
  • At higher levels, you could ask students to listen to their partner and decide on advice they could give e.g. how to make their partner’s routine more relaxing, healthier, more productive. At the end they can respond and decide what 2 or 3 changes they think their partner should make.
  • Ask students to listen to each other in full and then, after both have presented, decide on what time of day would be the best for them to meet for a social Zoom chat.
  • In stage 4 above, ask students to “plant” one or two untruths in their new routines. The partner should ask questions while listening to the routine and try to find the information that is not true.
  • In general, encourage learners to find out more – ask follow-up questions. You can build in an extra stage where they re-pair in a new breakout room and present their old partner’s routine to a new partner.

Language Focus Options:

  • Collocations for everyday activities and habits (see the list in Changes; adapt this for your learners in terms of level, age, job etc.).
  • Language for describing present and past habits and routines / tendencies e.g. present simple – I get up / wake up at 8.00; I tend to / tended to…; I used to…; adverbs of frequency e.g. nowadays, typically, rarely.
  • Comparing the present and the past e.g. I used to start work at 8.00 but now I start later; I do much less exercise than before. And comparing habits with other group members e.g. Béla gets up at 5.00 but / while / whereas I stay in bed until 10.00.
  • The present perfect simple and continuous for describing changes to routines / habits e.g. I’ve been reading a lot more, I’ve made some changes to my workspace.
  • (In My Workspace) language for speculating and making predictions e.g. it looks like you are in the living room; I think your workspace is tidy because….
  • (In My Workspace) lexis for describing the space e.g. it’s cluttered / a bit of a mess / well-organised / there’s stuff everywhere.
  • (If part of the goal for New Routines) Language for giving / responding to advice e.g. I think you need to….you should….okay, maybe.

Variations and Extension:

  • As noted earlier, the content can be adapted so it does not emphasise work e.g. the items dictated in Changes and discussed in New Routines can be tailored, made more general, more specific, level-friendly and so on; My Workspace can become My Study Space or even My Relaxation Space.
  • The tasks work well in one-to-one teaching, with you working as partners and e.g. taking turns to share and compare your day in New Routines.
  • For lower levels, increase pre-task support and preparation. As noted in New Routines, consider modelling more fully yourself. The point here is to give a clearer idea of what is expected of the task rather than specifying linguistic forms to use. For My Workspace put the prompting questions suggested in stage 2 onto a worksheet, giving students time to think of their own answers before they interview each other.

5. a treasured possession

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This task is inspired by the BBC Radio series, A History Of The World in 100 Objects, which is currently being re-broadcast. I’ve been in the process of moving house recently, and I’ve come to realise how many of the objects I’ve been boxing up are like museum pieces; the reason I have kept them is because they connect me to another time of my life, and we all know that the past is another country. The current state of confinement has meant that a lot of your students will be tidying and rearranging at home, so perhaps they have been doing some personal archaeology too.

Pre-task:

  1. You could begin by asking students whether they are hoarders and whether they sometimes need to de-clutter their living space and get rid of things.. (Elicit and pre-teach these.) In breakout rooms, in pairs or groups, they can discuss where they would put themselves on a cline like this:

Minimalist ————————————————X———————Hoarder

  • In feedback, discuss why we keep things. Ideas like sentimental value (or actual monetary value) will arise. Some things are (not) worth keeping / holding on to.
  • Listen to Mike’s short talk below. What is he talking about? How likely is he to hold on to this object, or throw it away? (Perhaps the students have something similar; this is something that can be discussed in feedback.)
Mike Walker talks about his guitar (a Westone Pantera)

Task 1 (optional): 

One idea is to set the preparation for the task as homework: See also the variations section. (If you choose an app, a book or a picture as your main focus, the language used is likely to be more specialised, and benefit from more preparation time.)

Main Task (See worksheet below):

  1. Tell students that they are going to present an object that is special to them, one that is part of their history. (If you have more time, and the task appeals to students, invite them to choose more than one.)
  2. Give students a few minutes to think about the object, answering the questions on the worksheet. They should just make notes, and expand these in their talks, rather than scripting the whole thing. 
  3. Ideally, the students will turn on their webcams for this, at least while they are presenting the object/s of their choice. Each one should talk for about two minutes (or longer, depending on their level and the amount of preparation they have done) about the chosen object. NB They should not say whether the object is one they want to keep or throw away. 
  4. The listeners have to listen and make a note of questions they would like to ask to find out more. After the speaker has finished, elicit questions from some of the listeners. 
  5. Finally, the listeners guess if they think the object is one that the speakers would like to keep or not. (They can also speculate, if appropriate, about the monetary value of the object; it might not be worth much, or worth getting valued?) 

Follow-up

One way to make use of short presentations like these is for text-reconstruction.  There is a chapter about this in our book, Activities For Task-Based Learning.  For certain of the objects presented, ask the listening students take notes and, using these, to reconstruct or re-tell the story behind the object to members of their breakout group. This will provide more examples of student output which you can focus on afterwards. If you want this in more permanent form, set the same task in writing.

Language Focus: grammar

  1. Narrative tenses and time markers I got this while I was a student / when I was still living in / on holiday in _____; This used to belong to my grandmother;  I had never owned a _______ before / up to that point.
  2. Ditransitive verbs My girlfriend bought/gave me this
  3. Relative clauses It’s something I like to look at / don’t take out all that much
  4. Embedded clauses It says a lot about who I was at the time….

Lexis

treasured possession; sentimental value; hoard(er); get rid of; clutter/decluttering; ornament; it’s important to me; it reminds me of / makes me think of; I’ll always remember (the time we ____); it has a special place in my heart; I couldn’t afford it

Variations and extension

  • Instead of an object, students can talk about a book that is important to them, or a photograph from their photo library. The key to having the task work well is the visual element, so enable screen-sharing if possible. 
  • For more technologically-minded students, get them to talk you through the features and functionality of an app that they often use, and elicit questions in the same way. 

4. Off the Beaten Track

A large brick building with grass in front of a house

Description automatically generated
Kőbánya Cistern, Budapest

This is an updated version of a task that I first posted on Freeed last year. https://www.freeed.com/articles/855/off-the-beaten-track-a-task-based-on-atlas-obscura

The website Atlas Obscura  (https://www.atlasobscura.com/) is something of a digital Aladdin’s Cave, packed with surprises and curiosities. You can find content related to a wide range of countries and cities, with descriptions of lesser known obscure attractions for tourists (or locals) to visit: places that are off the beaten track.

In this task, learners read about local attractions they are less familiar with, present what they have found, and then choose which ones they feel are worth visiting, and why. The following procedure is based on Budapest; naturally, the idea is to choose a location of interest to your students.

You may be thinking: a task involving travel and tourist destinations during lockdown? Well, yes: I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to leave the confines of my flat and to experience the city where I live anew. So think of this task as giving students something to look forward to it when social distancing is a receding memory.

Pre-task

1) Ask the students some of the things they miss about their city now they are mostly in lockdown at home. Where would they visit if they had a free afternoon? Then give the students a minute on their own to note the top five tourist attractions in Budapest, before asking them to agree in breakout rooms on the three or four they feel every tourist should visit. Feedback on this as a class – agree on the top two or three attractions they feel tourists should visit, asking students to explain why. 

2) After this, ask students if they can think of any places worth visiting in the city (or country) that are less well-known – is there anywhere interesting in your neighbourhood, or in parts of town that tourists don’t usually visit?  Give them a minute or two alone to note some examples; or, if you have time, quickly put them back into the same breakout rooms to share ideas. Then feedback on these: pool the top two or three ideas.

3) Ask students which websites they use to access information before they travel. Ask if they have heard of Atlas Obscura – display the places page using the screenshare option (https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/all-places-in-the-atlas-on-one-map). Orientate them to the site, taking them on a brief tour, letting them know that it lists different cities and countries, recommending places to visit that are less well known to tourists; it functions as an alternative guidebook. 

Task 1

1) Ask students to look at the thumbnail descriptions of the recommended attractions https://www.atlasobscura.com/things-to-do/budapest-hungary/places. In this linked page for Budapest, there are three pages of thumbnail descriptions; this will vary depending on the location chosen, so determine in advance how many pages to use for your groups. Have the students skim these brief thumbnail descriptions with an appropriate task: are there any attractions you have not been to yet? Which would you like to visit?  Ask them to share with a partner in breakout rooms, before reporting back to the class. In feedback, pool the most popular attractions. 

Task 2

1) Now ask the students to imagine either:

(choose / adapt as appropriate fo your lesson)

a)  someone they know is coming to visit your chosen destination. This person has been to Budapest before and has seen most of the typical attractions. This time they would like to visit a few places that are off the beaten track;

b) your students are selecting a post-lockdown tour they would like to enjoy with friends. They are looking forward to experiencing the city anew! Which less well-known attractions do they feel they and their friends would like to visit?

2) Put students in pairs or small groups into breakout rooms. Ask them to select one of the different attractions. Note that each individual city page has thumbnail links to about sixteen attractions; each breakout room can choose more than one if it makes sense to do so in terms of lesson length and the level of the learners. But make sure each pair or group in the class chooses different attractions. 

3) They should then individually read the description of the attraction they have chosen. For example, the Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway:  https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/gyermekvasut). Remind the learners:

  • they will be presenting their reasons (in stage 4). It is also important to emphasise that they will likely not understand everything in the text: they should identify key words and phrases. 
  • they should highlight reasons for visiting this attraction: ask them to highlight their reasons in the text of the article.

After each pair has read the description and underlined reasons, ask them to check their ideas with their partner(s). Monitor this as you move through the rooms, helping out with vocabulary as needed.

4) Regroup the students so they can report their reasons for visiting the attraction. For example, if there were four pairs in breakout rooms in stages 2/3 (e.g. AA, BB, CC, DD) put them now in rooms with groups of four with one from each pair (ABCD). They should take turns to outline why each attraction is worth visiting. After all students have presented their reasons, the group should decide which attraction (other than their own) they would recommend to a visitor; or if your students prefer, they can comment on what seems more / less interesting about each attraction they heard about.  

Language Focus

The task focuses on practising reading and speaking – there is no pre-selected linguistic agenda. I’d suggest being attentive throughout the lesson, feeding in and reacting to learner output, both in the main room and when monitoring breakout rooms. Some options for language focus: 

  • Emergent Language: monitor the reading and presentation preparation stages, letting students know you are available to help clarify phrases from the text and feed in phrases they need to present their ideas.  
  • Text-mining: build in a stage after the Task 2 stage 4) above: ask the learners to identify 5+ new phrases from their text. It is probably worth focusing this somehow e.g. phrases / adjectives that positively describe the attraction, use of the passive etc. Ultimately, though, try to make yourself available to help students with any phrases they are genuinely curious about.
  • Homework: instead of doing the above immediately, ask the students to research and present 5 or 6 phrases in the next lesson. They can then peer teach these. With particularly motivated students, ask them to click the links and read about all attractions they heard in the lesson, noting new phrases they are curious about. 

Possible Follow-ups: 

  • In the next lesson, students recall the details of the attractions and reasons why each one is worth visiting.
  • Ask the students to reconstruct the reasons to visit the attraction(s), in another genre e.g. email / message to a friend, Tripadvisor review etc. 
  • Select another city / country and choose one attraction to present to the class. 
  • Live listening or recording of your own choice of attraction for students to listen to, take notes, and ask follow-up questions.

3. Feel-good movies for self-isolation

Introduction

This is the first of a series of tasks we’ll be posting, intended to be used on online platforms such as Zoom. This first task is a “pyramid discussion” type, suitable for intermediate level and above. 

In the past few days, since the beginning of enforced isolation in many countries, because it has been a sad and disorientating time, there have been some suggestions from streaming services about good movies to watch, generally of the “feel-good” type. As someone who generally doesn’t like this category of movie, I started thinking about which movie I would choose.

(Neil A’s note: hey, nothing wrong with feel-good movies! Also…see my choice in the ecording. I’d say the term is open to interpretation and broader than we perhaps think).

Pre-Task (1)optional

For homework, students remind themselves of the names of some “feel-good” movies, including perhaps some that they haven’t seen – or can’t remember well. They prepare to talk about one movie that they are familiar with for about a minute.

  • Why this movie is a suitable recommendation for these days of self-isolation. Does it have a particular message, or is it memorable for some other reason? Is it just escapist fun?
  • Is it suitable for families, or best watched alone?

NB Note that bulleted instructions like these can be cut and pasted into the Chat Box of your platform.

Pre-Task (2) Students listen to the MP3 of  Neil’s movie selection and his reasons. (See attached file). You could set an evaluative question as they listen: “Is this a movie that you’ve seen – or would like to see based on what he/she says here? Get ready to explain your reasons.” Feedback follows in the main meeting window.

Neil’s choice: Seven Samurai

Main task

  • The scenario is that the students have been employed as a focus group by a movie-streaming service such as Netflix. In breakout rooms, each student presents their idea for inclusion in the “recommended for a day of self-isolation” list. (If you have more time available, and students are movie fans or have done the homework, then they can put forward more than one idea*.) 
  • Respond to the others in your breakout room – ask questions to find out more about the others’ suggestions if these are movies you don’t know.
  • Decide as a group which movie to put forward to the final list. You can only choose one. (*or more – but limit the number). 
  • As a larger group (back in the main meeting) listen to all the pitches and decide whether or not to include these suggestions in the final list.

Language: sentence heads

I’ve watched this loads / This movie always makes me feel X / I always come back to this one because /

 I love the way / I love the part where…. / The best bit is where + S + V

Lexis (films): Soundtrack, acting, cast, plot.  It stars______ It’s from (the 90s)

Genres – romantic comedy, based on a true story

Adjectives:  Funny, moving, heartwarming, unpredictable 

For the message: This film is all about the power of love, the value of friendship / 

reminds us of what’s really important in life / that you can overcome the obstacles, begin again / not to take things too seriously / what you can achieve if you put your mind to it

Variation

This can easily be adapted for other media. For example, students could co-operate to make a Spotify playlist of songs for self-isolation. They can pick a particular mood e.g. calming, cheerful or even bleak and futuristic, if that’s the way they want to go. In each case, they should briefly explain the reasons for your choice. 

NB The language needed for this variation will be more abstract as it’s generally harder to talk about music. 

e.g. This track evokes / makes me think of / reminds me of / has a _______ atmosphere

2. Nostalgia Story

Lake Balaton, Hungary

This task focuses on sharing personal experiences, a category Willis (1996) includes in her taxonomy of task types; unlike other types, there is no problem to solve, no information or opinion gap to close, simply the (sometimes bittersweet!) pleasure of reminiscing about happy times, something we tend to do frequently – perhaps more so than ever right now. I’ve found it be one that many adult learners find highly engaging, and it is scalable in terms of level, assuming the right support is provided and we are not too ambitious in our expectations of what our learners can do. The material provided is for B1-B2 but see the notes at the end for lower levels. 

The task as described below is a “focused task” – that is, “designed to provide opportunities for communicating some specific linguistic feature” (Ellis and Shintani, 2014) – in this case, language that lends itself to conveying nostalgia and in particular structures for past habit (past simple, used to, would – again, as appropriate to the level of the learners). Even with a focused task, the task itself rather than specific forms should lead the lesson: the pre-task prep and the initial task cycle should concern itself with learners expressing what they want to express in their own words (with individualised support from the teacher while monitoring). You can then decide if the post-task language focus should head in a particular direction, and whether, when the task is repeated, learners should try to incorporate new features that have become salient to them. 

Pre-task: 

1. Elicit nostalgia and the chunks to feel nostalgic about / to reminisce about…from the learners. The terms you elicit or provide are not key as long as the context of “looking back at happy times” is established. 

2. Brainstorm topics we typically feel nostalgic about onto the board. After one or two examples to demonstrate, learners can think of e.g. 3-5 more topics in pairs / breakout rooms. This is likely to be topics such as holidays when we were younger, school / university, friends from the past, Xmas and other celebrations, places we lived, hobbies we had when younger, and so on. 

3. Tell the learners that everyone is individually going to recall a period of time they feel nostalgic about. Ask each learner to choose a topic from the list – one that they are happy to share with the others in the class. 

4. Explain that they are going to share their experiences of this time but before doing so they should note some key words to help them when they share. They should write a list of 10-15 key words and phrases which they can refer to when sharing their nostalgia story e.g. summer holidays, go to the beach, swim in the sea, have barbecues, play games, visit friends etc.  See the handout linked at the bottom for a template. 

5. Give the learners 5 minutes or so to note their key words. Play some appropriate music if you feel it would help generate ideas or put them in the mood: perhaps something instrumental, mellow and evocative (I often play this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXqaCogALv4). Make it clear you are available to help with any language the learners feel they need to express their ideas. As they note ideas, circulate and help. 

Task: 

1.  When they have finished taking notes, ask the learners to work in pairs / breakout rooms of A and B (you can make this groups of 3 or 4 if you’d end with too many rooms to manage).

2. A first tells their story; B should listen and think of questions to ask, for extra information – something they are curious to learn more about. This can be while A is talking or at the end when A has finished recalling the nostalgia story; whichever feels more natural and appropriate for your group. 

3. This is then repeated, with B telling their story and A asking questions. Allow each learner about 5 minutes to tell their story and answer questions. Monitor their output discreetly as you move from room to room: take notes for the subsequent language focus but also make yourself available when learners struggle to express an idea, search for a word, or would benefit from a recast. 

4. Move back into the main room. Ask each learner to report the content of their partner’s story: anything they had in common; something particularly interesting, and so on. Share content you heard while monitoring, and ask follow-up questions yourself, encouraging learners to elaborate on intriguing points you picked out.

Post-Task Language Focus / Input:

(note that the ideas below are a guideline for using Nostalgia Story as a focused task; I think it can work very well as such, but you don’t have to limit yourself in this way – in fact, there may be good reason not to: cast your net wide, and help with any language areas that have come up.)

1. Tell the learners you now intend to share a time you feel nostalgic about. They should listen, and with their partner, decide on follow-up questions to ask you when you have finished.  See the example, B in the linked material; this is one of several I use depending on level and learner interests. Try to read the nostalgia story in an unscripted, natural but understandable way. You may feel it is important to pre-teach one or two blocking items: fine, though I’d advise against this dominating proceedings, particularly with lower level learners. 

2. After you tell the story, encourage the learners ask further questions about your experiences. 

3. Give out a transcript of your story (again, see B for an example). Ask the learners to look through and identify different verb forms used for the past. Allow them the freedom to query any language they are curious about. 

4. Focus the learners on sentences you used in your story that reveal different structures for past habit, e.g.:  

· We used to live in a city called Kobe

· Every morning we’d travel to school by bus

5. Clarify the rules of use / form of the structures; revise what they know and help them understand the precise rules for new structures (e.g. past simple for past habits, states and single events; used to for past habits and states; would for past habits but not states / stative meaning. This can get even more complex and discourse-oriented at higher levels). 

6. If it feels appropriate, provide some controlled practice to help learners cement the difference between the new forms. This could involve the learners choosing between forms in a number of sentences based on the rules just covered e.g. we used to / would have a summer house by the lake; I remember once we used to play / played a show for the school. One other way to provide practice is to give the learners the key phrases from your nostalgia story, and ask them to reconstruct it.

Task Repetition: 

1. Before they repeat the task, ask the learners to look back at their noted key words and reflect on the grammar they used when they first told the story. Ask: did you only or mostly use the past simple? Could you use used to / would at certain points? Where?  Give them a minute or two to decide where they could “upgrade” the forms they used. In the linked sample handout, there is a column to the right of the original note-taking column in A that can be used to for this. 

2. Tell them they are going to tell their story again, but this time with a new partner. Regroup the class into new breakout rooms so all learners have a new partner.

3. They then repeat steps 2-4 from the original task. If your learners appear to be very engaged by the task, you can build in multiple short repetitions by using by allocating a new partner – keep a note of who has been working together in breakout rooms, as this can be tricky to remember.  

Notes: 

Although the procedure above, and sample material, are for B1-B2, it can work with A2. The trick is to scaffold appropriately. Suggestions: 

– let the learners hear your example story both before and after they tell theirs. If you tell yours before they do the task, focus them on the content rather than particular forms at this stage; 

– in pre-task step 5, give learners a template with guiding questions if it helps them structure their story e.g. where were you? How old were you? How often did you do this? What is one very happy thing you remember? They make notes after each question; 

–  don’t make your own story too long, or grammatically / lexically complex – and don’t expect wonderful fluent long turns from the learners: just encourage them to express what they can, and help / recast if they are struggling;  

– board some possible questions / frames to facilitate the Q and A in Task steps 2 and 3 e.g. how often did you….? How did you feel when…? Did you often / usually…?